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Things are better now. The Orioles have pulled out of that ugly funk that pushed them out of realistic playoff contention and they recently showed the playoff-bound Yankees and Royals that there is still a lot of fight in them.

That's nice, of course, since they still have a chance to make a good last impression, but it doesn't really change anything going forward. There is still a big cloud of uncertainly hanging over the 2016 season.

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If it's any consolation, Orioles fans aren't the only ones fretting about the likely loss of slugger Chris Davis, Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters, premier set-up man Darren O'Day and a handful of other potential free agents.

Center fielder and undisputed team leader Adam Jones doesn't want to see a repeat of last winter, when the Orioles let go of home run king Nelson Cruz, long-time right fielder Nick Markakis and dominating reliever Andrew Miller, though he recognizes that that more top-talent attrition is probably unavoidable.

"I want this team, from Day One of spring training, to not just talk about competing like everybody else — all 30 teams do that at the beginning of it — but actually have the team to be able to go out on the field and get the job done,'' Jones said Tuesday.

That would be a major challenge for the front office if Davis ends up warranting the kind of contract numbers that have begun floating around as a late-season power surge has boosted him to the top of the major league home run rankings. The Orioles couldn't find a way to replace Cruz's power numbers after he delivered a similar performance last year, so what should make anyone confident that they'll be able to replace another 40-plus homers?

"I don't do the business side of that," Jones said. "I get the players' side, and the players' side is, 'Of course, I wanted Cruz back and I wanted Miller back,' but I understand reality. Miller, he's a reliever, he's got to go get what he has to get. Cruz is 34, he's got to go get what he has to get. Markakis, he's a family man, he's not just going to settle.

"From that standpoint, I get why they didn't want to sit around and wait and wait. Players get one shot. People in the front office may be there for a year, or be there for 30, so at the end of the day, we're players, and we've got to maximize our opportunities."

Still, Jones made it clear in a Baltimore Sun Q&A last spring that he would not stay silent the next time a situation like that arises. He got some criticism from fans for saying that he felt he had a right to some direct input with owner Peter Angelos and the front office because he was the player with the longest contractual commitment to the organization.

He said Tuesday that he intends to seek a meeting with Angelos and sit down with both manager Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette at some point early in the offseason to make a case for treating next season like the Orioles should have treated this one.

"It's going to be a different offseason because a lot of the core is now in situations where they can do things differently," Jones said. "I want to make sure that, hopefully, I can persuade or say anything to keep this team intact, and if (that's not possible), go get guys who have similar attributes and pedigrees.

"I think after the season, I'll let things die down a little, get away from the game and then go have a meeting -— talk to Peter, go talk to Buck, go talk to Dan and see what direction we're going next year."

What Jones does not want is to spend one or two of his remaining three years under contract on a rebuilding team. He's gotten a taste of winning and he wants to help take the Orioles to the next level of success.

"Because I'm getting older," he said. "As you get older, you want to win. I may want to play until I'm 40, but every day you get older, so you want to win and win and win. You see why Torii (Hunter) is still playing. You want to win."

The front office will have a very full plate this winter. There are the pending free agents to consider and the Orioles might want to think about stretching the contractual horizon for third baseman Manny Machado. While they're at it, club officials might want to think about tacking a few more years on the end of Jones' current deal.

He isn't campaigning for that, but when asked if he would like to spend the rest of his career in Baltimore, he didn't hesitate.

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"If they wanted to extend me and make me a lifetime Oriole with no confusion about me going anywhere else, I'm always going to be open to that," he said. "I'm no idiot. I understand where comfort is. I understand where the opportunity was given and I've always been a loyal person. If that opportunity arose, you've always got to entertain a possibility that is securing your life and your family's life."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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